Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Saving our Culture, Killing our Daughters

Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible Nature. Unaware that this Nature he’s destroying is this God he’s worshiping.

- Hubert Reeves

We’d like to share a few vignettes with you. These are true stories about women that the authors know. Their real names have been changed to protect their identities. It has been a difficult journey to connect the dots, not to see the stories as atomized happenings built from particular contexts. As soon as we started linking the struggle of women here in India to the globalized context of corporate capitalism with its corollaries of extraction, patriarchy and cannibalism, an emerging thought-form started to show itself. It is the concept of wetiko, a word that comes from the Cree Nation, one of the First Peoples of North America. More on that later.
After spending almost a decade in an unhappy marriage, Nikita finds the courage to get out of the destructive relationship. When her family finds out, her father threatens to kill her. She attempts suicide—a move that she believes to be her only recourse. Although she is somehow saved after a close shave with death, her mother continues to insist that there must still be no question of a divorce. She cannot stray outside the cultural context of male-dependent marriage.
One day before her wedding, Roshni discovers the abusive side of the man she is planning to marry. She tells her father that she wants to call the wedding off. He gets furious and says he's already spent a fortune on the wedding preparations. He shouts the cold calculus of investment and invokes the cultural and social shame that would follow if she does not stay the course. And so she does. The outcome is predictably horrendous.
After years of convincing her parents (daring to do so because she had taken care to choose someone from the same caste), Kriti finally marries the man she loves. Dowry is also demanded by and given to the groom's family. Kriti accepts this, feeling that the man could not be rude to his parents by interfering with their way of things and saying no to a dowry. A month into the marriage, her spouse starts physically assaulting her and cutting off her contact with everyone outside the marriage. She works up the courage to tell her parents and talks of lodging a police complaint and leaving him. They call up the man and condemn his behavior, but forbid her from leaving the relationship. They say she chose the relationship, a contract was sealed, and she must now accept the consequences.
What is the common thread in all of these cases? Of course, the institution of marriage plays a central role. As do the cultural norms---familial expectations, caste requirements,  national demands, the precepts of patriarchy and the hegemony of globalized capitalistic mores. The assumed subservience of women and the desirability of a patriarchal marital arrangement are taken as givens.
In all these cases, the women were economically independent. Some even had what is often a luxury in Indian society - the "freedom" of dating and choosing a man to marry as long as he didn't not belong to certain castes or religions. Yet, once they entered the institution of marriage, they were chained by its rules such that to try to break out would have been seen by their families as a violation of their "culture" and "honour", and the most egregious “failure”. The fear of this rupture in cultural norms dominated their minds so much that some were willing to kill their offspring, while others didn't seem to care about whether or how their daughters would live if forced to continue within the oppressive structure of their marriages.
Some will argue that these are distinctively Indian problems. That the violence against women is endemic to our culture. But if we step back far enough, it becomes clear that this stems from our violence against the ultimate female deity – Gaia herself.
Our separation from Nature started over 12,000 years ago with the advent of what Daniel Quinn calls “totalitarian agriculture”’ when we left the trusting bosom of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and built the first city-states through the mechanistic extraction of farming. Many hunter-gatherer tribes were matriarchal, as women brought in the majority of the food, and did so on a more consistent basis than their male-hunting counterparts.
Economic anthropologists tell us that the first buildings we created in the Fertile Crescent were granaries. Once we had a surplus of food to protect, the natural social extension was a militia to protect the food, and then of course, a hierarchy of nobles and priests to manage the managers. The Ziggurats of Ur and Babylon point to the genus of our current brand of capitalism, which is simply the logical continuation of the exploitation of Nature, accumulation by dispossession, the wholesale commodification of Life, the pillage of slavery and colonialism, the rationalistic duality of the Enlightenment, and the extractive heaving of our Earth to fuel the Industrial Revolution. Late-stage capitalism, or neoliberalism, as some prefer to call it, is the outcome of all of these historical forces.
These machinations of modernity have always required a contempt for the natural world. The scientific revolution of Bacon and Darwin, and the resulting speciesism corroborated our special place above Nature, and indeed above the feminine aspects of our own nature.
From the inception of the first Ziggurat, men were rewarded for their brutality, ruthlessness and sheer strength. Women were subjugated as weak and irrational commodities to be traded to the most tolerant bidder. This history is not particular to India. It is the history of our so-called civilization.
When the Cree Nation in what is now North America first came into contact with European colonialists, they thought the Europeans were consumed by wetiko, a mind-virus of cannibalism. The Sioux Nation perceived them in much the same light, referring to the newcomers as Wasichu or “”fat-takers.” It has been argued that this thought-form originated from our initial separation from Nature, or more accurately, our perceived separation. Like all memetic viruses, wetiko is communicable – it moves from one host to another, whether that is an entire culture or an individual, mutating to best serve the illusions of its host, driving it further onto the path of self-consumption until there is nothing left.
Instead of being loving parents, it is common for people to turn into masters who own their daughters and disown them at the first sign of disobedience. Looking at the stories of these women who are denied recognition and rights as independent human beings, and witnessing the condition of the Earth that is called our Mother, in this Anthropocene era where 200 species are going extinct every day, there is no doubt that the spirit of wetiko has been embodied into the globalized system, especially the Western democracies. Their  spreading of the wetiko meme has taken the form of an invisible hand that’s dirven by, selfish rationalism, market fundamentalism and financial capitalism. It has resulted in the superiority of man over woman, calcifying cultures over empathetic adaptation, and cannibalism over Life itself.
Whatever we think Indian culture is, however autonomous and historically endowed, once we see the larger historical viewpoint, the constellational entanglements with the British Empire, imperialism, cultural genocide, and the imposition of wetiko values, we will see that Indian culture is just one configuration that was created through a set of male-dominated rules and the tumultuous compounds of historical accretions. In many ways, culture is just a collective delusion, a set of shared beliefs, expectations and role behaviors. We have a choice at this juncture in human history: to save our culture and kill our daughters, or to transcend our culture, and have women fully participate in the process of guiding our collective evolution to create the potential for a living planet once again.

First published in Intercontinental Cry, 24 Jan 2017. With Alnoor Ladha.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

गौ राशि की कन्या

हमारी लड़की गाय है
आप इसे जननी, भगिनी, भार्या . .  . 
किसी भी किरदार में डाल सकते हैं
बासी रोटी, घास-फूस, प्लास्टिक
कुछ भी खाकर एक कोने में पड़ी रहेगी.  

और खासकर उपयोगी सिद्ध होगी तब,
जब इसके नाम पर, इसके मान के लिए
आप अपने गौरव की लड़ाई लड़ेंगे.  


First published in Indian Cultural Forum, 9 Dec 2016.





Wednesday, 21 December 2016

एक पत्रकार की मौत


तुम्हारे लिए ज़रूरी हो गई 
क्योंकि तुम्हारे हिसाब से 
वो अपने कद से ऊपर उठने की कोशिश कर रहा था। 

पर अगर वो इतना ही गौण होता 
तो तुम्हें ना दिखता
तुम्हारी नज़र में ना चुभता। 

और अगर तुम इतने ही ऊँचे होते,
तो उसी की लाश पर अपने डगमगाते कदम रख 
तुम्हें उचक कर नज़र में आने की 
मशक्कत ना करनी पड़ती। 



First published in Indian Cultural Forum, 9 Dec 2016.



Incomprehension exercise

With Twitter and Facebook
And useless alleys and Jantar Mantar,
Which were benevolently left out of Section 144,
Allowing people the small mercies
Of boasting, roasting, masticating,
Everyone has developed the bad habit
Of having an opinion.

The evening smoke
Rising from the corn on the cob
Wraps your heads in a sensuous aura
And you think you are the bosses-
The bosses on everything
From malnutrition to the moon.

Well, I hate to be the one to break it to you
But you are not experts.

It takes a certain level of expertise
To understand why there is no alternative
Why people must be killed
Why children must be maimed
Why rapes must be committed
Why lawmakers must flout the law.

It takes hard work, blood and sweat,
Erasure of histories and creation of fresh ones under tight deadlines
To develop the nuanced understanding
That with great power comes great arbitrariness.

If those in positions of responsibility
Don't abort the questions brewing in others
They'd be reminded in a flash of their own,
And of memories of others in similar positions

Who tried to be careful custodians of power
And started wondering
Who they were
Responsible for
Accountable to
Whose purpose they were fulfilling
Whose they had pledged to.

They then faced
Sleepless nights, arrests, enquiries,
And the feel of a bullet injected inside their temple with their own hand.

A wise man learns from others' mistakes.
The wise men of today know
That to peer too deep into the sockets of the skull in your hand
Invites the risk of your skull soon being in another hand
They know the only way to keep their head is to bury it in the sand.
But you, all of you worthy of such men's contempt and disgust, you just don't understand.


First published in Indian Cultural Forum, 9 Dec 2016.



Saturday, 17 December 2016

पुराना मुर्गा, नया चोर


पास जब खिलौने नहीं थे,
हम चोर-सिपाही खेलते। 
झूठमूठ की बंदूक से 
कभी तुम मरते, कभी मैं। 

अब सचमुच के हैं तमंचे,
हम अब भी होते दो हिस्से। 
पकड़म-पकड़ाई का अब भी दौर,
बस खेल रहा कोई और। 

First published in Indian Cultural Forum, 9 Dec 2016.





Flawless

Uniforms do not err;
To err is human.

Does superhuman at times include inhuman?

First published in Indian Cultural Forum, 9 Dec 2016.



Thursday, 15 December 2016

Gladiator


On the steps leading to the Betwa river
The boy was selling yesterday's flowers.

My friend had a question for him,
"What do you want to do when you grow up?"

"I'll join the army," was his response.
My friend smiled: "So you want to serve your country."

He continued to hold the water's gaze
At the point where the sun had plopped down and broken into splinters.

"They give you shoes. And clothes.
They take care of everything."


He was planning to live
Unaware that the arena tickets had already been sold.

First published in Indian Cultural Forum, 9 Dec 2016.


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